Joseph Mallord William Turner

Whitehaven Harbour


View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 83 x 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXIII 9 a

Catalogue entry

Drawn with the sketchbook inverted, the subject continues on folio 10 (D07869). Turner visited Whitehaven as part of his Cumbrian tour in 1809 and drawings are in the Cockermouth sketchbook (Tate D07581; Turner Bequest 39), from the disbound Kirkstall Lock sketchbook (Tate D12251, D12253; Turner Bequest CLV 10, 12) and, probably from another dispersed sketchbook, in other collections. For all of the latter see Introduction to the Petworth sketchbook (Tate D07512–D07536; D40276; Turner Bequest CIX). Two of them show the interior of the harbour, one with coal being loaded through rolling chutes – the famous ‘Hurries’ – on to colliers (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut), and the other shipping (Huntington Library, San Marino, California).1 The port had flourished for many years, exporting coal to Ireland and importing rum, sugar, tobacco and slaves. Although Turner’s more finished views show it as a busy place, it was in fact in decline due to silting and competition from more accessible deep-water harbours.
In this quick double-page sketch, the harbour seems quiet with only one small ship in the artist’s line of view. Turner shows the view out towards the Solway Firth, with the cliffs towards Bransty and Parton on the right. As this writer was able to confirm on a visit in August 2009, Turner took it from the Old Quay, with the high protective wall at his left shoulder; to the right is the entrance to the inner harbour and the Old North Wall.

David Blayney Brown
July 2009

For the ‘Hurries’, designed to deliver a constant supply of coal to the moored ships by gravity loading and a showpiece of the harbour, see Mary E. Burkett and David Sloss, Read’s Point of View: Paintings of the Cumbrian Countryside. Mathias Read 1669–1747, Storrsthwaite 1995, pp.66–7.

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